The Entrepreneur’s DNA

Last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal had a special section on “Unleashing Innovation,” with stories that emerged from a recent conference in Singapore. I was particularly interested in an interview with Hal Gregersen, a professor of innovation at Insead business school, and a coauthor (with Jeff Dyer and Clayton Christensen) of The Innovator’s DNA. The “DNA” refers to the five defining traits of innovative people:

  • Associating: Drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from related fields
  • Questioning: Posing queries that challenge common wisdom.
  • Networking: Meeting people with different ideas and perspectives.
  • Observing: Scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers and competitors to identify new ways of doing things.
  • Experimenting: Constructing interactive experiences and providing unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge.

In my forthcoming book Zig Zag, I draw on creativity research to identify eight “habits of mind” or disciplines that lead to greater creativity. The overlap with Gregersen’s five is pretty close!

  • “Associating” is essentially identical to my sixth step, FUSE.
  • “Questioning” is just like my first step, ASK.
  • “Networking” overlaps with a couple of my steps, but mostly with LOOK, or staying aware and mindful of new ideas. “Networking” is even more closely associated with my 2007 book Group Genius.
  • “Observing” is basically the same as my third step, LOOK.
  • “Experimenting” is similar to my eighth and final step, MAKE. For me, MAKE is about externalizing your ideas early and often, and then to interact, refine, and revise.

I’m excited to see that Gregersen’s research shows that entrepreneurs are particularly good at engaging in these five activities. In addition, my research shows that these work for all creativity, not only entrepreneurship but also visual arts, music, science, cooking, family life…the eight steps of Zig Zag lead to greater creativity in all aspects of your life.

*Gregerson, Feb 26, 2013, “The Entrepreneur’s DNA.” WSJ, page B13.

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